IN a rather strained summit, top leaders of Japan and China tried this week to celebrate their 20 years of official ties, but found little to cheer about.
They were dogged by memories of Japan's wartime occupation of China, the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, the flare-up of a territorial dispute, and a lingering uncertainty over who will rule China.
"This visit cannot be called a success," says Nobuo Maruyama, a China expert at the government-linked Institute for Developing Economies.
Still, the sheer symbolic fact stood out that Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, was allowed to visit Japan, the first such visit of a major Beijing leader to an industrialized nation since the 1989 massacre of student protesters.
His five-day trip, which concludes tomorrow after talks in Tokyo and a visit to western Japan, has kicked off events leading up to the 20th anniversary this fall of normalized relations between the two Asian powers.
Mr. Jiang came to Tokyo looking for aid and comfort to help China break out of its estrangement with the West and to put more Japanese investment behind the Communist Party's reinvigorated economic reforms.
"Amid the turbulent international situation for some time to come," Jiang told reporters yesterday, "I believe that Sino-Japanese cooperation is indispensable for stability."
But the major comfort he received was that Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa made no public mention of the human rights situation in China. Unlike its Western partners, Japan plays down talk of political prisoners in China, hoping instead to foster stability on the mainland and to serve as a broker between East and West.
China is eager to increase aid from Japan, which is already the country's largest aid-donor with a $6 billion program, but Jiang did not win any new promises.
Leaders of Japan's ruling party had sought Jiang's support for a bill in parliament which would authorize Japanese troops to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations. The bill has tough opposition because it would allow the first overseas dispatch of the military since World War II.
But Jiang all but disapproved of the measure. "We hope Japan will use utmost discretion," he said in polite manner, while reminding his hosts of Japan's wartime role in Asia.
"Japan should not repeat past mistakes," he said, recommending instead that Japan use its economic power to help Asia.
Such comments triggered a response from Koko Sato, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) executive council. "China is a military power and exports arms. It should be in no position to criticize Japan's peacekeeping operations," Mr. Sato told party leaders, according to Kyodo news agency.
In another display of tit-for-tat summitry, leaders here were cool to Jiang's request for Emperor Akihito to visit China this fall. This was China's eighth request in recent years.
One reason for the rebuff was that many LDP members are angry at China. The Chinese National People's Congress claimed rights to Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea earlier this year.
Also, the Congress took up a demand against Japan for $180 billion in war compensation to Chinese civilians.
Perhaps as a rebuke, Jiang was not invited to speak before the Japanese parliament. Prime Minister Miyazawa did say that an imperial visit "would be significant for the development of friendship in the future," but he was otherwise noncommittal.
"China needs a visit by the emperor as a symbol of better cooperation with Japan," Mr. Maruyama says. "It is very worried about being isolated from the Western world."
"But if the visit is made, Japan will be making a big crossover by linking up with China. It will be a point of no return. The US will become more concerned.
"If, however, Japan rejects the invitation, it faces more attacks from China. For Japan, it is very difficult choice."
Perhaps aware of the dilemma, Jiang indirectly criticized the US. "We must smash the many forms of hegemonism and power politics that ignore other nations' sovereignty and interfere in their internal affairs," he said in a speech.
Another problem with an imperial visit is timing. It would come just before the next Congress of the Communist Party in October. Intraparty struggles, made worse by the Tiananmen incident, might spill over and turn the visit of the emperor into an anti-Japan event.
"China is not yet normal in its leadership. It would be best to avoid the season of power struggles," Maruyama says.